Ex-Post Office boss Paula Vennells goes to ground amid scandal

Ex-Post Office boss Paula Vennells goes to ground amid fallout from IT Horizon scandal as she disappears from her Grade-II listed Bedfordshire home and quits roles at Dunelm, Morrisons and parish priest duties

  • Ordained priest Paula Vennells was last seen at her multi-million pound home in Bedfordshire last Friday 
  • She made £4.5million in seven years, got a CBE and had boardroom jobs with Dunelm and Morrisons
  • Mrs Vennells has now quit all her public roles, including with the Church of England after the scandal 
  • Calls for her to be investigated as 39 postmasters wrongly convicted of stealing amid flaws of IT system

The Post Office boss and part-time priest who presided over the cover-up of one of Britain’s biggest miscarriages of justice has not been seen at her Grade II-listed home for at least three days, neighbours claimed today.

Paula Vennells, an ordained priest, was last seen at her multi-million pound home in Bedfordshire last Friday, and today announced she will step back from regular church duties as calls grew for her to be stripped of her CBE.

The 62-year-old was in charge of the Post Office from 2012 to 2019 and walked away with £4.5million in pay and bonuses at a time when her staff were falsely accused of theft. Today, she also resigned as a non-executive board member of high street retailers Dunelm and Morrisons, jobs which had been earning her £140,000 a year.

Neighbours told MailOnline today that they had seen her gardening in the grounds of her home last week, but by Friday she had disappeared. Today, curtains were still drawn at the property and there were no signs of life.

Speaking near the 16th century wooden-framed farmhouse where Mrs Vennells has lived for 30 years, one neighbour said: ‘She was very kind to me when I suffered a bereavement and she is well thought of locally.’

Another said: ‘You can understand why she doesn’t want to be around at the moment. She has probably had advice to stay away.’

There have been calls for Mrs Vennells to be investigated after 39 postmasters wrongly convicted of stealing from their branches were finally cleared at the Court of Appeal on Friday.

The former postmasters were sacked, some bankrupted and others even jailed in one of Britain’s biggest miscarriages of justice, with Mrs Vennells accused of treating them ‘with contempt and derision’.

They, and hundreds of others like them, were blamed for losses in Post Office branch accounts which were actually caused by serious flaws in the Fujitsu-developed Horizon computer system.

Rather than admit the IT system was defective, the Post Office concealed evidence of the glitches and instead forced its own staff to plead guilty to crimes they knew they had not committed, lawyers representing the postmasters told the Court of Appeal last week.

The Post Office, under Mrs Vennells’s leadership, had spent £32million to deny any fault in Horizon before capitulating as the case against their own staff crumbled.

It has since paid a £58million settlement to 557 postmasters following an acrimonious High Court battle. Some died from heart attacks or strokes before they had their names cleared, others were driven to suicide.

Liberal Democrats including Sir Vince Cable all oversaw the Post Office while in Coalition with the Tories, and have been accused of failing in their duties. 

Paula Vennells, the Post Office boss who presided over the cover-up of one of Britain’s biggest miscarriage of justice, has announced she will step back from regular church duties

Mrs Vennells was last seen at her multi-million pound home in Bedfordshire last Friday, which is pictured from the road


Mrs Vennells has also resigned as a non-executive board member of high street retailers Dunelm and Morrisons

Mrs Vennells oversaw a failed mediation scheme and sacked a team of independent forensic accountants after they found the losses could have been caused by Horizon. 

The Post Office continued to recover debts and in 2017 Mrs Vennells chose to fight 550 postmasters through the civil courts.

How the part-time priest in charge of the Post Office made £4.5m and was handed a CBE while postmasters were put in the dock on false charges

Paula Vennells

As the Post Office scandal unfolded, some bosses accumulated wealth, honours and directorships.

Part-time priest Paula Vennells, 62, stands accused of covering up the scandal and forcing postmasters into a High Court battle.

After she became chief executive in 2012 there was a ‘pervasive failure’ to investigate complaints about the Horizon IT system, the Court of Appeal said yesterday.

She received her CBE in the 2019 New Year Honours List for services to the Post Office and to charity. 

On leaving, she was handed roles advising the boards of Morrisons and Dunelm. Now she has been forced to quit in disgrace.

Yesterday she said she was ‘truly sorry’.

Ms Vennells was the chief executive during the period where hundreds of postmasters were blamed for losses from branch accounts because of errors in the Horizon computer system.

An ordained priest, she joined the Post Office in 2007 and was promoted to CEO in 2012. She is said to have known that money could appear to be missing from the accounts.   

After leaving the Post Office, she landed roles as an adviser to the Cabinet Office and chairman of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust in London. She was given a CBE in 2019 for services to the Post Office and to charity.

The married mother-of-two kept the £4.5million she earnt during her Post Office tenure, and receives £140,000 a year advising supermarket chain Morrisons and homeware retailer Dunelm.

In June last year, she was forced to step back from the Church of England’s ethical investment advisory group due to the furore over the scandal.

In evidence to the Commons business committee she sought to shift the blame for the IT scandal, insisting she did not approve prosecutions of her staff and was misled by computer experts.  She was accused of treating postmasters ‘with contempt and derision’.

Alice Perkins earned £100,000 a year as chairman from 2011 to 2015.

The wife of Labour grandee Jack Straw was in charge when alarm bells started ringing and was in a position to demand the scandal be dealt with properly. Yesterday she apologised for the ‘deep distress’.

Almost 150 postmasters were prosecuted between 2010 and 2012 – when Dame Moya Greene was chief executive of parent company Royal Mail.

In 2011, an audit found IT weaknesses could ‘lead to… erroneous transactions’.

Dame Moya was Sunday Times Business Person of the Year in 2014. She has previously declined to comment.

Chairman Tim Parker, 65 – nicknamed the Prince of Darkness in City circles – supported Paula Vennells when she took on 557 former staff in civil courts. He is now trying to rebuild relations with postmasters. Mr Parker, worth at least £200million, said the firm was ‘extremely sorry’.

IT provider Fujitsu is said to have known there could be glitches as early as 1999.

Police are investigating whether former Fujitsu IT experts Anne Chambers and Dr Gareth Jenkins misled trials, which could lead to charges of perjury.

In a statement yesterday she said she was ‘truly sorry’ for the ‘suffering’ caused to the 39 subpostmasters. 

Mrs Vennells has informed the Bishop of St Albans that she would be stepping back from her regular parochial duties following the court’s ruling.

‘I am truly sorry for the suffering caused to the 39 subpostmasters as a result of their convictions which were overturned last week,’ she said.

‘It is obvious that my involvement with the Post Office has become a distraction from the good work undertaken in the Diocese of St Albans and in the parishes I serve.

‘I have therefore stepped back with immediate effect from regular parish ministry, and intend to focus fully on working with the ongoing Government inquiry to ensure the affected subpostmasters and wider public get the answers they deserve.’

Mrs Vennells was awarded a CBE for services to the Post Office which unions argue should now be stripped from her. She is an associate minister in Bromham, Oakley and Stagsden, Bedfordshire.

The Bishop of St Albans said it was ‘right’ that Mrs Vennells ‘stands back from public ministry’ following the ruling.

He said: ‘As the son of a former subpostmaster I express my distress at the miscarriage of justice that so many subpostmasters have suffered.’ 

It came after it emerged Mrs Vennells’s appointment to a new job in the NHS was approved by controversial Tory peer Dido Harding. 

Mrs Vennells had quit as Post Office chief executive just before a damning court ruling in 2019.

She became chairman of Imperial College NHS Trust and Baroness Harding, chairman of NHS Improvement, headed the panel that judged Mrs Vennells a ‘fit and proper’ person. Last December it was announced she would leave the role in April ‘for personal reasons’.

NHS Improvement said it had ‘followed a fair and open appointment process including application and interview’.

The compensation bill for 39 postmasters whose lives were ‘irreparably ruined’ in the Post Office’s Horizon IT scandal could run into tens of millions of pounds, MailOnline has been told.

The wronged postmasters shed tears of joy and opened bottles of Champagne outside the Royal Courts of Justice on Friday, as they had their convictions for stealing quashed. 

Now the 39 vindicated postmasters could lodge compensation claims against their former employers.

Post Office chiefs have admitted that the pays-outs must ‘reflect what has happened’. 

And those close to the case told MailOnline that the claims could run into the ‘tens of millions of pounds’.

The vindicated postmasters are now set to submit their claims, which experts say could range from tens of thousands of pounds to a million pounds each – depending on the specific circumstances. 

The Post Office will then have three months to respond. 

Post Office chief executive Nick Read said: ‘I am in no doubt about the human cost of the Post Office’s past failures and the deep pain that has been caused to people affected.

‘Many of those postmasters involved have been fighting for justice for a considerable length of time and sadly there are some who are not here to see the outcome and whose families have taken forward appeals in their memory. I am very moved by their courage.

‘The quashing of historical convictions is a vital milestone in fully and properly addressing the past as I work to put right these wrongs as swiftly as possible and there must be compensation that reflects what has happened.’ 

In total, as many as 736 sub-postmasters who were convicted could claim damages, further pushing the compensation bill into the hundreds of millions of pounds. 

Close to 2,500 postmasters have applied for compensation from a new Post Office scheme, which is expected to pay out £153million of compensation. 

Many postmasters and postmistresses were prosecuted for theft, fraud and false accounting, while others were hounded out of work or forced to pay huge sums of ‘missing’ money, due to the scandal. 

The scandal blighted their lives, as former staff lost their homes and marriages, and suffered ill health as a result. 

One former postmaster, Martin Griffiths, killed himself after he was falsely suspected of stealing £60,000, while some have since died and ‘gone to their graves’ with convictions against their names.   

Postmaster Harjinder Butoy outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London after the landmark ruling last week that overturned prosecutions for 39 postmasters wrongly accused of theft because of the Post Office’s poor IT systems

Former post office worker Tom Hedges (centre) pops a bottle champagne in celebration outside the Royal Courts of Justice on Friday

Former post office worker Wendy Buffrey (left), from Cheltenham, is hugged outside the Royal Courts of Justice, London, after having her conviction overturned by the Court of Appeal

Former post office worker Noel Thomas, who was convicted of false accounting in 2006, celebrates with his daughter Sian outside the Royal Courts of Justice

The shortfalls in the accounts of local branches were the result of flaws in the Post Office’s Horizon IT system

In a landmark ruling at the Court of Appeal, Lord Justice Holroyde said the Post Office ‘knew there were serious issues about the reliability of Horizon’ but ‘consistently asserted [it] was robust and reliable’, and ‘effectively steamrolled over any subpostmaster who sought to challenge its accuracy’. 

From wrongful imprisonment to strokes and even suicide: How the Horizon IT scandal devastated victims’ lives 

Welsh postmaster jailed for nine months ‘fell off the ladder’ after conviction – before picking himself up and seeking challenge to Post Office prosecution

Noel Thomas was jailed for nine months in 2006 after he was accused of stealing £48,000

Noel Thomas was jailed for nine months in 2006 after he was accused of stealing £48,000 while he was working for the Post Office in Gaerwen on Anglesey.

He told the BBC that he admitted to the charge because he never reported discrepancies he noticed, but insisted he did not take the money and blamed the Horizon computer system.

‘I want everyone to have their name cleared and to get to the bottom of what has happened and where the money has gone to,’ Mr Thomas told BBC Newyddion 9.

‘Thirteen years after jail, I must admit it was hard but I gradually got my confidence back through family, friends and work colleagues.

‘Yes, I do feel bitter, and not just for myself – the Post Office have been coming and telling people that they have taken money, that they are a thief.’

Family of postmaster who killed himself after being wrongly accused of theft demand Post Office bosses are held accountable

Martin Griffiths, 59, took his own life in 2013 after he was falsely suspected of stealing money from Post Office

Father-of-two Martin Griffiths, 59, took his own life in 2013 after he was falsely suspected of stealing money from a Post Office in Ellesmere Port, where he had worked for around 20 years. 

Mr Griffiths was one of hundreds of postmasters who were suspected of false accounting and theft, with some fired or wrongfully convicted, after amounts appeared to vanish from their tills.  

The family of Mr Griffiths said he delved into his own savings and those of his parents to pay back around £60,000 he was wrongly suspected of taking from the branch.

The turmoil lasted for four years, between 2009 and 2013, and had a huge impact on the father-of-two’s physical and mental health, his family said.  

In 2013, Mr Griffiths parked his car on the A41 in Ellesmere Port after leaving a note for his loved ones and took his own life. 

His family have called for a stricter line of review from the Government and asked for a judge-led enquiry to get to the bottom of the injustices behind the scandal. 

Postmaster caught up in major IT scandal which saw many falsely accused of accounting fraud suffered a STROKE after he was hounded for £65,000

Peter Murray said he suffered a series of breakdowns and a stroke after he was hounded for £65,000

Peter Murray said he suffered a series of breakdowns and a stroke after he was hounded for £65,000. The 53-year-old, from Wallasey in Merseyside, has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

He said he was suspended without pay and forced to take out loans and borrow from friends to make monthly repayments to the Post Office. 

He paid £1,000 a month before learning that he was among many sub-postmasters to face false accusations.

‘It left me completely devastated,’ added the father of three. ‘It caused absolute havoc for my family, I have had several nervous breakdowns. It made me feel like a convict, but I’m not going to let it beat me.’

Wife finally clears name of her postmaster husband after he died while still facing false Post Office claim he had stolen £46,000

Marion Holmes, 78, won justice for her late husband, Peter Holmes, who was a respected postmaster in Jesmond, Newcastle, before the Post Office Horizon scandal ‘destroyed’ his good name

Marion Holmes, 78, won justice for her husband, Peter, who was a respected postmaster before the Post Office Horizon scandal ‘destroyed’ his good name. 

Ex-police officer Peter Holmes had successfully run a sub Post Office in Jesmond, Newcastle, for 13 years, before his world came crashing down due to issues with the Horizon computer system.

When more than £46,000 went missing from his books in 2008, Peter found police at his door and shocking criminal accusations made against him.

He was forced to admit four counts of false accounting in order to for prosecutors to drop charges of theft of the money, which could have seen him sent to prison.

In fact, Peter was one of a number of people wrongly prosecuted by the Post Office over errors its own system had made.

Family of one postmaster said he died a broken man after being forced to clean graves as punishment for a crime he did not commit

Julian Wilson (pictured with his wife Karen) was shattered by injustice and exhausted by his attempts to clear his name

Julian Wilson was shattered by injustice and exhausted by his attempts to clear his name, they said. He died in 2016, at the age of 67, of bowel cancer. His wife Karen says the disease had it roots in the trauma he endured and the all-consuming campaign for redemption.

For years the Post Office had stubbornly insisted its IT systems – called Horizon and designed by a company called Fujitsu – never lied, calling them ‘robust’.

Last year, following a court case brought by 557 postmasters, Mr Justice Fraser branded Horizon not ‘remotely robust’.

He added: ‘This approach by the Post Office has amounted, in reality, to bare assertions and denials that ignore what has actually occurred.

‘It amounts to the 21st century equivalent of maintaining that the earth is flat.’

Outside the courts, former postmasters and postmistresses and their friends and families celebrated the historic event. Noel Thomas, who spent nearly a year in jail in 2006 after being accused of stealing from the Post Office in Gaerwen on Anglesey, burst into tears as he was embraced by his daughter Sian. 

‘It has been a long, long time. It’s a big weight off everyone’s shoulders really,’ he said.

Tom Hedges, who was convicted of theft and false accounting and given a seven-month suspended sentence in 2011, opened a bottle of prosecco and bellowed: ‘It’s a wonderful afternoon. 

‘When I told my mother, who’s 93, I was coming to court she said ‘get yourself down to Aldi and get some prosecco’. 

‘She said: ‘Just remember your name is Hedges not Rothschild, so get prosecco, not Bollinger!” 

Tracy Felstead, who was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment in a young offender institution in 2002, when she was just 19, cried when she heard that her conviction was being overturned.

Ms Felstead, 38, said she was ‘over the moon’ by the ruling but remains ‘angry that it even got this far and they have been allowed to do this’. She added that anyone who ‘genuinely knew what was going on and they tried to cover it up’ should face criminal prosecution themselves. 

For others, the victory was bittersweet. Julian Wilson, who ran a post office in Astwood Bank, Worcestershire, died before his name was cleared. His widow Karen Wilson, 66, said: ‘I promised him I would kept on fighting. And today those judges said he was right. I’m not brave but this was such a massive wrong. 

‘For 13 years I have lived and breathed it. We almost lost everything.’ Mr Wilson’s daughter, Emma Jones, 47, said: ‘This is a bittersweet day for us. Very unjust, very unfair.’

Harjinder Butoy, subpostmaster in Nottingham who was convicted of theft and jailed for three years and four months in 2008, described the Post Office as ‘a disgrace’ after his conviction was overturned.

He said his conviction and imprisonment ‘destroyed my life for 14 years – that’s not going to be replaced’, and said those responsible for the scandal ‘need to be punished, seriously punished’. 

Wendy Buffrey, 61, of Cheltenham, ran a Post Office branch in the Gloucestershire village of Up Hatherley.

She admitted two counts of fraud and was handed a community sentence with 150 hours of unpaid work at Gloucester Crown Court in October 2010.

She also had to pay the £26,250 shortfall and £1,500 towards the cost of her prosecution.

Speaking after she was cleared on Friday, Ms Buffrey said: ‘I’m very good, ecstatic is the word.

‘I’m now no longer a criminal, I’m a victim of the Post Office.’ 

Ms Buffrey said it had taken ‘far too long’ to get justice, adding: ‘If they had investigated this properly in the first instance I would still be running a Post Office, because I enjoyed my job – I really loved it.’ 

She said she has developed fibromyalgia as a result of the stress and sleepless nights she has suffered over the years, which means she in constant pain.

She added: ‘Compensation is a big thing, I will very happily accept compensation, but this was what mattered to me, getting my name cleared.’

In a statement after the ruling, Post Office chairman Tim Parker issued a grovelling apology for ‘the impact on the lives of these postmasters and their families that was caused by historical failures’. 

But lawyers representing the former postmasters claimed the Post Office ‘still appears to care little about the people whose lives it has destroyed’ and called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to announce a ‘judge-led public inquiry’, with the power to summons witnesses, into the prosecutions of postmasters. 

The Communication Workers Union called for criminal investigations into senior Post Office figures who ‘oversaw the criminalisation of hundreds of postmasters’ and called for former CEO Paula Vennells, who is said to have known that Horizon could cause money to appear to be missing, to be stripped of her CBE. 

Ed Miliband, Labour’s shadow business secretary, called for ‘a proper inquiry with teeth to get the bottom of how this scandal can have happened and who was responsible – to deliver the justice those impacted need and deserve’. 

The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), which investigates potential miscarriages of justice, also encouraged any former employees to consider challenging their convictions following the ruling.

Mr Johnson said the wrongful convictions of the 39 former Post Office staff were clear evidence of an ‘appalling justice’ and called for lessons to be learnt to ensure ‘this never happens again’.    

Speaking on a visit to a farm in Stoney Middleton, Derbyshire, the Prime Minister told reporters said: ‘I know the distress many subpostmasters and their families have felt for a very long time now through the Horizon scandal and I’m pleased that we’ve got the right judgment.

‘Our thoughts are very much with the victims and we’ll have to make sure that people get properly looked after because it’s clear that an appalling justice has been done. Everybody in my profession knows somebody in the Post Office world who has suffered from this and it’s very sad what has happened.

‘I think the Horizon thing has been really terrible for many families and I’m really glad the judgment has come, in I think, the right way. 

‘I hope that that will now be some relief for those families and for those people who, I think, have been unfairly penalised and suffered in an appalling miscarriage and we’ve got to make sure we look after them.’ 

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said the Post Office ‘must continue to reform’ after the Court of Appeal’s ruling.

He tweeted: ‘The court’s decision to overturn 39 postmasters’ convictions is welcome and marks another milestone for those affected by the Horizon IT scandal.

‘The tragic impact this has had on postmasters and their families cannot be overstated. The Post Office must continue to reform.’

In a statement Mr Parker said: ‘The Post Office is extremely sorry for the impact on the lives of these postmasters and their families that was caused by historical failures.

‘Post Office stopped prosecutions soon after its separation from Royal Mail a decade ago and has throughout this appeals process supported the overturning of the vast majority of convictions.

‘We are contacting other postmasters and Post Office workers with criminal convictions from past private Post Office prosecutions that may be affected, to assist them to appeal should they wish. 

‘Post Office continues to reform its operations and culture to ensure such events can never happen again.’

Nick Read, Post Office chief executive, said: ‘The quashing of historical convictions is a vital milestone in fully and properly addressing the past as I work to put right these wrongs as swiftly as possible, and there must be compensation that reflects what has happened.’ 

In a statement, Helen Pitcher, chairman of the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) – which referred the 42 subpostmasters’ convictions to the Court of Appeal – said: ‘This has been a serious miscarriage of justice which has had a devastating impact on these victims and their families.

‘Every single one of these convictions has clearly had a profound and life-changing impact for those involved.

‘Six convictions had already been quashed which had been referred to Southwark Crown Court.

‘The Post Office has rightly acknowledged the failures that led to these cases and conceded that the prosecutions were an abuse of process.

‘We sincerely hope that lessons will be learned from this to prevent anything similar happening elsewhere in the future.’

Neil Hudgell, from Hudgell Solicitors, who represented 29 of the former postmasters, said his clients were ‘honest, hard-working people who served their communities but have had to live with the stigma of being branded criminals for many years, all the while knowing they have been innocent’. 

He said in a statement: ‘The Post Office still appears to care little about the people whose lives it has destroyed.

‘Ultimately, it has been found to have been an organisation that not only turned a blind eye to the failings in its hugely expensive IT system, but positively promoted a culture of cover-up and subterfuge in the pursuit of reputation and profit.

‘They readily accepted that loss of life, liberty and sanity for many ordinary people as a price worth paying in that pursuit.’

Mr Hudgell said the ‘scandal’ of the prosecution of subpostmasters ‘will only deepen should those involved not now finally face a fiercely-run investigation into how these prosecutions were conducted, what exactly was known as to the unreliability of the Horizon system when it was being used to ruin people’s lives, and whether people acted in a criminal manner’.

He called on Mr Johnson to announce a ‘judge-led public inquiry’, with the power to summons witnesses, into the prosecutions of subpostmasters.

Mr Hudgell added: ‘The time has come now for people at the Post Office who were involved in any way relating to these unsafe convictions to feel the uncomfortable breath of the law on their necks as our clients did.

‘If they are then found to have broken the law, they must then feel the full force of it too.’

He said that firm had also filed a further 34 appeals against convictions on Thursday and has another seven clients waiting in the wings.

Former post office worker Noel Thomas, who was convicted of false accounting in 2006, celebrates with his daughter Sian outside the Royal Courts of Justice

Former post office worker Janet Skinner (centre), with her niece Hayley Adams (right) and her daughter Toni Sisson, celebrating outside the Royal Courts of Justice

Karen Wilson, widow of postmaster Julian Wilson who died in 2016, holds a photograph of her husband outside the Royal Courts of Justice, London, after his conviction was overturned by the Court of Appeal

A former subpostmaster and supporter celebrate outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London, on April 23, 2021, following a court ruling clearing subpostmasters of convictions for theft and false accounting

The CCRC also said anyone who ‘believes their criminal conviction may be unsafe because of the impact on their case of performance issues with the Horizon computer system’ should consider challenging their conviction.

What was the Horizon computer system and how did it go wrong?

Horizon, an IT system developed by the Japanese company Fujitsu, was rolled out by the Post Office from 1999.

The system was used for tasks such as transactions, accounting and stocktaking. However, subpostmasters complained about defects after it reported shortfalls – some of which amounted to thousands of pounds.  

Some subpostmasters attempted to plug the gap with their own money, even remortgaging their homes, in an attempt to correct an error.

Between 1999 and 2015, hundreds of subpostmasters were sacked or prosecuted due to the glitches. The ex-workers blamed flaws in the IT system, Horizon, but the Post Office denied there was a problem.

In case after case the Post Office bullied postmasters into pleading guilty to crimes they knew they had not committed.

Many others who were not convicted were hounded out of their jobs or forced to pay back thousands of pounds of ‘missing’ money.

The Post Office spent £32million to deny any fault in their IT system, before capitulating. 

However, the postmasters and postmistresses said the scandal ruined their lives as they had to cope with the impact of a conviction and imprisonment, some while they had been pregnant or had young children.

Marriages broke down, and courts have heard how some families believe the stress led to health conditions, addiction and premature deaths.

Andy Furey, CWU’s national officer for postmasters, said: ‘At long last, 39 innocent people have been exonerated for crimes they did not commit.

‘This has been one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in British history.

‘For years, decent and upstanding members of the community have been vilified through no fault of their own.

‘Their lives and the lives of their families have been devastated, and some have even died carrying the shame of unjust criminality on their shoulders.

‘The CWU is so glad that this long legal struggle has been won. But this isn’t the end of it.

‘Alongside appropriate financial compensation for all the victims of this injustice, there must be acknowledgement of the aggressive, despicable way that senior Post Office directors treated their loyal employees.’

Mr Furey said the CWU wanted the Post Office’s former CEO Paula Vennells to be stripped of her CBE. 

Mr Furey said: ‘Our union is demanding that Paula Vennells, the former CEO, be stripped of her CBE – which was awarded to her for services to the Post Office in 2019 – for her part in this scandal.

‘We also demand a criminal investigation against those who put loyal, decent workers in this diabolical situation.

‘Many senior figures who are complicit in this scandal will now want to run from this situation, but we must not let that happen.

‘Heads must roll for the humiliation and misery inflicted on decent, upstanding people who were simply providing much-needed local services and were pillars of their local communities.

‘It will be only when justice is done that the suffering of so many can be mended and these decent, loyal postmasters can get real closure.’

Della Robinson, 53, had her conviction quashed after she was sentenced to 140 hours of community service for false accounting in 2013.

Standing outside the Royal Courts of Justice, she told the PA news agency: ‘I feel we’ve achieved something, it’s been a victory. We’ve not won anything to be honest, because we’ll never get back what we lost, but it’s just an achievement for everybody, it’s so overwhelming.

‘We’ve proved that we’re innocent today, it’s not a matter of winning, it’s a matter of proving that we’ve done nothing wrong.’

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